Mongolia Monday- Explorers and Travelers: Beatrix Bulstrode on Mongolian Bactrian Camels

beatrix bulstrodeFirst in 1911 and again in 1913, an intrepid British woman, Beatrix Bulstrode, traveled in and through Mongolia. The result is one of the great travel classics of all time “A Tour in Mongolia”. I’m only 78 pages in and have already found enough material for 3-4 blog posts. She was a wonderfully droll writer in the the English tradition, coming up with unforgettable phrases like “desperately unsportsmanlike” to describe her Finnish missionary traveling companion’s offer to throw a number of Chinese out of an inn to make more room for Mrs. Bulstrode. She refused for the reason stated above, and so  joined them and nine or ten Mongols either sleeping on the raised heated bed the Chinese call a k’ang or tucked into every available corner.

These days, tour companies like the one I work with, Nomadic Journeys, uses camels for cross-country trekking trips.
These days, tour companies like the one I work with, Nomadic Journeys, use camels for cross-country trekking trips. They carry all the baggage, tents, food and even a ger for use as a kitchen and dining hall.

As she headed north out of Kalgan up onto the Mongolian plain and the Gobi, she passed camel caravans going south. She had a wonderful ability to pick up information and write about what she saw in a vividly compelling way. Here is her description of the bactrian camels:

“The staying power of camels is proverbial. The caravans in Mongolia march from twenty-five to twenty-eight miles a day, averaging a little over two miles an hour, for a month, after which the animals require a two weeks’ rest when they will be ready to begin work again. Their carrying powers all the same do not bear comparison with the ox-cart. The ordinary load for the Bactrian, or two-humped Mongolian, camel is about 2 cwt. For riding purposes, though despised by the horsey Mongol, a good camel may be used with an ordinary saddle for seventy miles a day for a week in spring or autumn without food or water. The points of this particular species are a well-ribbed body, wide feet, and strong, rigid humps. The female camel is pleasanter to ride and generally more easy-going than the skittish young bull camel, who in the months of January and February is likely to be fierce and refractory. I have heard it said that if a camel “goes for you” with an open mouth, you should spring at his neck and hang on with both legs and arms until some one renders you timely assistance and ties him up. Generally speaking, however, they are not savage. They make as though to bite, but seldom actually do. The female might, in fact would, try to protect her young; and the cry of a cow camel when separated from her calf is as pathetic as that of a hare being run down by the hounds.”

My first time on a Mongol bactrian camel. Western Mongolia, Sept. 2006
My first time on a Mongol bactrian camel. Western Mongolia, Sept. 2006

There will be more excerpts by Beatrix in the future. Stay tuned.

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